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Primitive Living Skills- Beyond the Basics-
The Unexpected in Tracking

Tracking Page 1- the basics
Tracking Page 2- tracking and observation
Tracking Page 3- tracking media, tracking journal
Tracking Page 4- tracking surprise
Tracking Page 5- wilderness mind, observation, new experiences
Tracking Page 6- recommended reading

A Tracking Surprise

re-posted from 11 September 2010 blog post

I am currently reading David Scott-Donlan’s “Tactical Tracking Operations”, another book on my list of tracking “how-to” books. This book is published by Paladin Press here in Boulder, and is definitely directed towards a military and police audience. Please note- I put “how-to” in quotations as tracking is not something that can be learned from books; it is learned on the ground. But books such as this are great resources, and this one is filled with the author’s personal accounts, shedding light on what you might- and might  not expect on following a track.

Scott-Donlan points out in a number of places where he encountered the  unexpected, and I encountered this myself yesterday. Whenever I am out on a trail, or off a trail, I am looking for sign, for any tracks that might be visible, always examining them, following them, reading them. This is the way tracking is learned. Yesterday on my morning run is a case in point.

As I ran down a well-traveled trail I noticed two perfectly spaced marks in the dirt. The track was new and fresh and there was only one going out, in my direction of travel. There were no prints over the top of it at all. At first I thought it might be the end of a stick being drug along. Then I noticed that the track was far too consistent for that in its depth, width, and clarity. The track was very deep and obscured in areas of deeper dirt, very clear and less obscured in harder locations- to be expected. But on uphills it was barely visible, and disappeared completely on some uphill locations.

Upon close examination I found a thin, nearly treadless bike tire track underneath, and being crossed over, by the other two marks. My conclusion- someone was riding a bike with a thin, worn front tire and nothing but a narrow rim on the back. The person was walking the bike up hills, thus diminishing the two marks from the rear tireless rim. I hoped I might run into whatever was making this track, bike or otherwise, so my suspicions might be confirmed.

I laughed to myself thinking that I must be way off in my assumption. It just seemed too far-fetched. I ran along for another 15 minutes or so when I heard a grinding noise ahead of me, coming in my direction. As I rounded a corner and started heading down a slight hill I met the rider of the bike with one tire. He was starting up the hill where he was getting no traction from the thin metal rim in the loose dirt. Just as I saw him he jumped off his bike to push it the rest of the way up the hill, causing the two lines to be less deep on the trail.

My lesson here is first that I read the track correctly. Tracking requires instinct and it also requires that you trust your judgment. Once I met the biker and looked over his track again, there was really nothing else that it could have been. I knew this from reading the track before I confirmed my assumption, but still questioned my judgment. I also realised the Scott-Donlan’s “expect the unexpected” is something that must be taken seriously. You never know what you might find out there.



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Primitive Skills- Living Comfortably Off the Land
Primitive Skills- Learning the Basics, Water
Primitive Skills- Shelter
Primitive Skills- Fire
Primitive Skills- Food
Primitive Skills- Navigation
Primitive Skills- Primitive Weapons
Primitive Skills- Fishing
Primitive Skills- Flintknapping
Primitive Skills- Tracking
Desert and Wilderness Survival and the Survival Kit Page
Choosing Your Survival Knife


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